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Conversations with the Inspiring Tina Watkins-Quaye

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tina Watkins-Quaye.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My story starts with my grandpa. My dad’s dad, Ted Watkins Sr., who happens to be an American hero. In the early 1900’s he fled a lynch mob in Mississippi as a child, all alone. He started life in Watts, and eventually founded the Watts Labor Community Action Committee to make life better in what remains one of the most neglected communities in the country.

That was in 1965.

In 1992, the headquarters was burned to the ground by people participating in the revolt. Amazingly, my grandpa and other leaders of WLCAC responded in love, opening up more to the community, for healing, connection, and community education about our shared history. Now, our rebuilt headquarters site is equal parts industrial complex, housing management, community program, and world-class art institution.

WLCAC is not just one thing. None of us are.

Maybe that’s why I feel so comfortable there. Our journey is different but the passion is the same: My grandpa started with nothing and  I grew up with the advantages of expensive private schools in Palos Verdes, and a top liberal arts college. I came to work at WLCAC while I was still studying English at Occidental College.

During the past 16 or so years I’ve worked there, I met my husband, had our first child, and started a spiritual rebirth. Our organization knows every person has a rich story, and I get to tell those stories for a living.

I write grants to fund programs that save some 25,000 lives each year, and when I’m not doing that, I’m writing songs, singing, or writing on my blog, www. As rich as my Dad’s dad’s legacy in community service is, my Mom’s mom’s legacy in music is just as great. She led the family singing group The Sylvers into pop stardom in the ’70s and passed on her operatic soprano to me. I grew up listening to them rehearse and record, and singing has been an integral part of my life and work ever since. Only in the last few years have I realized my story and voice has the power to create change in people’s lives. Now, I make it a mission to not only share that sound, but to build it in other singers who may not know how much the world needs them.

So I’m a writer, singer, and community servant. But also, I’m a wife. My husband is an actor and a pastor, Ebenezer Quaye. He is my best friend, life coach, dietitian, trainer, pastor, and overall stud-muffin. When we met, I didn’t believe in God and thought I had everything figured out: Particularly since I’d met the man of my dreams. On Valentine’s Day in 2010, I went to church with him and that marked the day of a new journey for me. Nothing was sudden, but over time I realized there was so much growing up to do. That I had avoided pain, responsibility, discipline, conflict, and difficulty, and my life was limited because all I wanted was a superficial, romantic, feel-good kind of love and life. As pleasurable as that may be, it’s not balanced or realistic and as I learned, that combination is dangerous.

My husband and I are deeply connected to our church family. Both of us sing with the worship team, teach, and generally do anything we can to help.

At The Potter’s House at One LA, I learned to love and live again, and it revealed me. It’s improved my work at WLCAC, my marriage, and my parenting. This revealing helped peel off all the dead layers that dulled and hid the best parts of life and left behind something healthy, thriving, growing, alive.

In this landscape of Los Angeles, mine is a story that spans a century in South LA, with deep roots in the most affluent and impoverished neighborhoods. Still, you and I are what makes this city interesting: The stories of the people who live here. Wherever they have come from, and no matter where they are headed each of our lives is what matters most and the more we can learn about each other and connect with each other the better we are.

Has it been a smooth road?
Absolutely not. For a long time, I was a single party girl, “living my best life” as they say, traveling the world, working hard and playing hard. As long as I was in certain environments, everything was okay. Those choices couldn’t help when life got hard. When my husband faced a life-threatening illness; when my one-month-old niece passed away; when my grandma died; when I faced financial stress; when the responsibilities of married life kicked in.

It helped to become self-aware, to have a spiritual grounding which for me is in the Bible, my pastors, church and church family. Most of all, to be honest with me.

It is so easy to pretend our shortcomings, insecurities, failures, and flaws are not that big a deal in our effort to practice self-acceptance. The problem is, some of our flaws seem small now but all grown up, are deadly. If we don’t accept that and start working on them now when we’re older our life will look like a tangled mess of bad choices based on lies of omission we told ourselves.

Here’s an example: I had a drinking problem. Around certain people and circumstances, you would never have known. But we can’t control everything all the time. Bottom line for me was this problem could have ultimately cost me my not only my marriage, my son, and everything I loved, but my life.

Through self-study, healthy relationships and a deep relationship with my healthy church, I was able to face this symptom and ultimately, its root. My husband and other healthy people in my life helped me see the pattern of choices and behaviors that created a habit of self-soothing that could have killed me, and more important, they helped me understand why.

It took a long time for me to realize I actually felt deep self-loathing and shame. I was able to trace this back to abandonment and abuse, and basically a whole lot of hurt. The resulting lifestyle of choices reinforced the problem.

That’s just one example. All of us have so many struggles that ultimately lead back to what you believe about yourself. Who do you believe you are, can be? I changed a lifestyle and habit because I changed a narrative about myself. I replaced the voices that tell my story in my thoughts, that had always told a version of the same plot line for my life, with healthier voices, with loving voices, even if it was difficult.

Remain a student, studying yourself, and don’t be afraid to face your wounds. Underneath the scar tissue is something painful and raw. If you don’t deal with it and heal it now, you give control of your life over to what wounded you without realizing it.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into WLCAC’s story. Tell us more about it.
We value people and try to reflect that value in an improved life. To do that, I learn and tell stories. With every song, every grant, every blog, every photo, every post the spotlight is on the best in each person, organization, situation, and atmosphere. Of particular use is laser focus, being able to call forth the truth in conflict, resolve problems, be transparent, and help people face themselves.

With WLCAC, it’s about understanding and valuing our community enough to make strangers care about the people who live there. The hardest and most rewarding part of our work is teaching the history of the Civil Rights movement to tourists through our exhibits. People of all walks of life, nationality, age and income ranges learn about what has divided us, what connects us, and how we can each improve our future.

With music, it’s about understanding and valuing the human condition enough to make it safe to face your troubles, and safe to believe in more for yourself. As an art form that involves both written word and pure sound, music has the power to leap past our walls, but also to speak very specifically to our spirit. As an artist, I try to become the sound at the same time I master the language of the song so each story reaches and moves the listener.

Joy and love are my not-so-secret weapons.

I find ways to communicate what’s hard to say to folks who didn’t realize they wanted to listen.

Do you have any advice for finding a mentor or networking in general? What has worked well for you?
Avoid the pull of surrounding yourself with people like you. Be self-aware enough to know where your weaknesses are and collaborate with people who improve and compliment you in those areas.

Look for what you have in common with people. Every living person has a connection point. Most importantly, if there is work to be done, Get it done. Excellently. Nothing builds a relationship like the shared experience of effective effort.

Do your own work: Know what your voice represents, and your project, field, expertly and serve impeccably. Make it easy for people to work with you. Make sure they feel how much you value their contribution by listening, using their input, and guiding their work with your input where needed.

Value people’s time, and your own time. Make every moment count.


  • Vocal Coaching: $50/hour
  • Copy editing: $25/ page
  • Songwriting: Contact for details
  • Content creation: Contact for details

Contact Info:

  • Website:
  • Email:
  • Instagram: @TinaWatkinsQuaye
  • Twitter: @watkins79
  • Other:

Image Credit:
Tina Watkins-Quaye, Renee Newman, Rachel Brashier, Unknown, Ebenezer Quaye, TPH OneLA

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Joanna

    January 22, 2019 at 20:17

    Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing

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